All posts by Zachary Garceau

About Zachary Garceau

Zack Garceau is a Researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He joined the research staff after receiving a Masters Degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a BA in history from the University of Rhode Island. He specializes in French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History.

ICYMI: Historic occupations

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 12 November 2014.]

Cordwainer imageWhile writing my blog focusing on archaic medical terms a few months ago, I began thinking about other aspects of everyday life that appeared in records used by genealogists. One element of an individual’s life which appeared on everything from wills to land deeds to town records was occupation. While some of the occupations listed on records throughout the last four hundred years still exist today (farmers, blacksmiths, and wood workers, to name a few), many of these jobs either are known by a different name or are entirely obsolete in modern society.  Continue reading ICYMI: Historic occupations

Finding royal roots

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile
Representations of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile at Lincoln Cathedral. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

In lineage societies, the frequently-used term ‘gateway ancestor’ refers to an ancestor who has a known lineage which can be traced back to a person of prominence. Proven lines to gateway ancestors can result in descendants being accepted into many hereditary societies. In the following piece, I will be using my own ancestor, Robert Abell, as an example. Born about 1605 in Stapenhill, Derbyshire, Abell came to Massachusetts in 1630.[1] Through Robert Abell, I was able to trace my ancestry back to individuals such as Eystein Glumra (born c. 805), Amadeus of Oscheret (born c. 790), and Fulcois, Count of Perche, a tenth-century French nobleman.

I began my research by first confirming my connection to Robert Abell through my great-great-grandmother, Jennie Luther, daughter of Edwin Sanford and Jennie H. (Connolly) Luther. Using works including The Luther Family in America and The Luther Genealogy, as well as vital records, probate records, and other widely available resources, I was able to confirm the following ancestry of Jennie Luther:[2] Continue reading Finding royal roots

Baseball’s Biography Project

Moonlight_Graham
Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

A total of 18,337 men have taken the field throughout the history of Major League Baseball (18,663 if the National Association is counted as major league, a point of contention among baseball historians).[1] Under their “Baseball Biography Project,” the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has sought “to research and write comprehensive biographical articles on people who played or managed in the major leagues, or otherwise made a significant contribution to the sport.”[2] Thus far, researchers for SABR have completed 3,591 biographies, a significant number when one considers that historians still do not know the place of birth for 72 players throughout the history of baseball.[3] Continue reading Baseball’s Biography Project

The evolving game of football

Walter Camp of Yale
Walter Camp. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 6 November 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Rutgers Queensmen[1] defeated the College of New Jersey[2] Tigers by a score of 6 to 4 in what is regarded as the first college football game ever played.[3] College football would remain a vastly different game from today’s version for the rest of the nineteenth century. The major differences in the game are accentuated in the diary of Harvard College graduate Edward Herbert Atherton of Worcester, Massachusetts, a work available in NEHGS’s R. Stanton Avery Special Collections (Mss A 1665). Continue reading The evolving game of football

The last survivor

San Francisco City Hall
The remains of San Francisco’s City Hall, 20 April 1906. Courtesy of WIkimedia

“It was 5:14 o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, April 18 [1906]. Nearly half a million people on the western edge of the American continent awoke suddenly with a roaring in their ears and a sensation in every nerve that struck indescribable terror to their souls.”[1] On the fateful morning of the San Francisco earthquake, and in the troubling days that followed, more than 3,000 citizens lost their lives.[2]

In addition to the tragic loss of human life, the effects of another significant loss have been felt in the 110 years since that disastrous day. Continue reading The last survivor

Chaos in the streets

Moving Day 2
Moving Day, 1831. Images courtesy of Wikimedia.org

As many genealogical researchers know, tracing your ancestors in major metropolitan areas can prove difficult, thanks to the use of similar names, confusing address patterns, and, often, changing locations. In New York City, residents changed addresses rather frequently, making it challenging to place them in any one location for an extended period. Interestingly, residents in New York City often relocated around the same time each year due to a long-standing tradition, Moving Day. Continue reading Chaos in the streets

Devil at the crossroads

Robert Johnson full
One of only two confirmed images of Robert Johnson in existence.

Rock and roll icon Eric Clapton once described Robert Johnson as “the most important blues musician who ever lived.”[1] Despite the fact that Johnson influenced musicians decades after his death, his life is shrouded in mystery. Johnson is believed to have been born on 8 May 1911 in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, to Julia (Major) Dodds and Noah Johnson.[2] Julia was married to a prosperous landowner named Charles Dodds at the time of her son’s birth. Charles Dodds had been forced to leave Hazelhurst following a dispute with white land owners.[3]

By 1913, two-year-old Robert Johnson was sent to Memphis to live with Charles Dodds, where he is known to have attended school in 1916 before rejoining his mother in the Mississippi Delta area around 1919. Continue reading Devil at the crossroads

Westerly, 1900

Westerly street scene
Author’s collection. Westerly, ca. 1905-1937

One day nearly two years ago, I entered a bookstore in my hometown of Westerly, Rhode Island. I had heard the store would be going out of business soon and wanted to take one last look around. After a few minutes, I came across a tan binder on the bottom shelf that had certainly seen better days. Curiously, the binder was a promotional item for Mel Scheib and Co. Wholesale Plumbing of Rapid City, South Dakota. Flipping through the contents of the binder, I found pages and pages of clippings from local newspapers – The Daily Tribune, The Westerly Sun, and The Westerly News (only the Sun remains in business today) – dating from 16 February 1889 to 24 January 1919. Continue reading Westerly, 1900

Border crossings

Garceau house illustration
Line house in Canaan, Vermont/Hereford, Quebec. Courtesy of Matthew Farfan, The Vermont-Quebec Border: Life on the Line.

As many genealogical researchers know, it is hardly unusual to have a person listed as born in one state on a census record, then ten years later, listed as having been born somewhere else. For instance, it is not unheard of to see a person listed as born in Virginia in 1910, West Virginia in 1920, and Kentucky in 1940. This is due largely to the fluid nature of state borders until relatively recently. Continue reading Border crossings

The introduction of photography

Garceau photo 1
Boulevard du Temple, Paris. The solitary man having his shoes shined is at lower left. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps more than any other event, the introduction of photography altered how individuals were memorialized and are remembered. While portraits have been produced for thousands of years, photographic images were first introduced about 1838 and the first known photograph to contain people was produced between April and May of that year.[1] This photograph is of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris, and due to the long exposure time of about ten to twelve minutes, all people in the photograph moved and avoided being captured in the image, with the exception of a man having his shoes shined who remained still for the length of the exposure.[2] Continue reading The introduction of photography